McCormack survives misfire to rule RAC for a record third time
Marty McCormack dominated Britain's longest, toughest rally to become the first driver to win it three times.
Named after Roger Albert Clark, one of Britain's greatest ever drivers, the RAC Rally is a throwback to the days when the British round of the World Championship covered the the whole country, a marathon trek through the forests of Wales, England and Scotland.
Featuring cars from that era, mainly Ford Escorts, spanning five days and some 300 miles of special stages, McCormack, who just last month won the final round of the Irish Tarmac Championship in a modern R5 Volkswagen Polo, relished the opportunity to turn back time and take on the challenge in his Mk2 Escort.
Having won in 2012 and again in 2017, McCormack, a former British Junior and Historic champion from Draperstown, and English co-driver Barney Mitchell led from soon after the start in Wales on Thursday evening.
They maintained their lead over Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke on a second day in Wales on Friday and began to build their advantage during the long run north through the English forests, including Keilder, on Saturday.
They were more than half-a-minute ahead crossing into Scotland on Sunday and stretched it to nearly two minutes before their Escort developed a misfire and a loose steering rack.
But the McCormack team, led by Marty's brother Greg, cured the misfire and changed the rack in under 30 minutes during service, sending them back out to defend their lead.
McCormack admitted he was slow to "waken up" yesterday morning, allowing Pritchard to close the gap to just over a minute as the rally returned to England, but he fought off the challenge of the two-time UK Asphalt champion, who then struck disaster on the final stage, dropping close to 10 minutes. He narrowly retained his second place ahead of the Welsh crew of Roger Chilman and Patrick Walsh, who finished in third but more than 11 minutes behind the all-conquering McCormack.
"It has been an epic rally and I couldn't be more delighted to have not just finished it but to have won for the third time," he said. "Jason kept the pressure on all the way until the last stage and, although we had a couple of hiccups of our own along the way in what were really tough conditions, I always felt we had the measure of him.
"It is such an achievement to win this rally. They don't come any more challenging and I can't say a big enough thanks to Barney and the whole team who did a fantastic job."
Irish-American Seamus Burke and co-driver Martin Brady finished 16th, and among the others who survived the marathon in dank, foggy conditions were David Greer/Brian Crawford, 25th in their Opel Manta, Keith McIvor/David Burns, 27th in their Escort, and the Volvo of Drexel Gillespie/Gill Cotton, who finished 48th.
Reigning British historic champion Paul Barrett from Omagh was among the favourites but retired on the third stage, as did Fermanagh driver Adrian Hetherington, both their Escorts suffering early engine trouble.